Ask Larry Ciscon to illustrate the future impact of Affinity, the architectural programming software he developed and began selling in June, and his thoughts turn to the World Trade Center in New York.

Well into the post-9/11 planning process, he explains, the location of David Child's Freedom Tower was deemed to be too close to the West Side Highway, and it had to be moved.

“Our software would have immediately turned on a red flag,” Ciscon says. “It would have said the footprint is too close to the road.”

The CAD industry understandably focuses on design. Built on the BIM revolution, Trelligence's Affinity may be the first software of its kind, designed specifically to address the programming stage of planning, designing, and constructing a building. Affinity, Trelligence's website promises, “fast forwards the BIM model into the pre-design phase delivering time and cost savings.”

Affinity allows users to track a client's program requirements in spreadsheet format and to distribute the program requirements in two- and three-dimensional schematic designs, either using preset templates or starting from scratch. The software flags instances where the schematic designs and the program requirements don't match. The program also allows users to log details such as actual and target square footage, actual and target cost estimates, and building specifications. A Flash-based client questionnaire helps architects gather the necessary data.

Program requirements are defined up front and can be modified along the way. At any stage, Affinity can produce reports on the schematic design, program, and cost, as well as requirements and their change history, all in Excel or HTML.

“The fact that Affinity enables you to go back and forth between the numbers and visual is, I believe, one of its greatest strengths,” Ciscon says.

Currently, Affinity 3.5 works as a stand-alone program and as a plug-in for Archicad, allowing program analysis to continue as the design progresses.

According to Leslie Butterfield, the company's senior vice president of sales and marketing, Trelligence is working on a desktop version for Mac computers and a plug-in for Autodesk Revit. A 4.0 version of Affinity is in the works.

Affinity currently ships with six templates, but Butterfield considers them simple, “training-wheel” solutions; Trelligence can deliver customized templates as a professional service if firms do not want to customize the templates themselves.

“I expect we will increase the number and depth of templates in the future, and we will probably make more of them available on our customer portal where customers can share them,” Butterfield says.

Since its May, Affinity has been sold to several large firms, such as Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, CUH2A, and Linbeck. Butterfield says more firms—and even the General Services Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—are evaluating it.

In July, ARCHITECT sat down with six Houston architects who, after a two-hour test-run of Affinity, offered their own evaluations. Most of the participants were unfamiliar with the software until that morning, when Ciscon and Butterfield gave them a quick overview.

CAD Interface

Jon Jay Ernst: What we do now is pretty labor-intensive, bringing data out of Archicad and putting it into an Excel spreadsheet, and trying to custom-tailor Excel spreadsheets to read the data.

I see a lot of possibilities for interfacing Affinity with our CAD package, which is pretty nice if we can keep it updated along through the design process and spit out spreadsheets. I think it'll be a big time-saver.

Nicola Springer: It's tied in to the CAD program, making a seamless progression from programming through the design phase. As someone who's on a project from conceptual design through the end, I like the idea of potentially having more of a tie-in on the programming phase. There's also a level of comfort for the client knowing that there's that connection.

Client Relationships

Janson Tramonter Jr.: I could see this tool being used in our office immediately, on a large corporate headquarters project that we just got. The clients don't have an established budget. They want help to determine what the right budget is for the amount of square footage and the amenity spaces that they need. Affinity would be a way to help with that.

Affinity helps tell the story of your design and how you got there—and helps sell your design along the way. If you're configuring spaces and places around the clients' program and the building takes shape from the inside out, the clients have seen it along the way. When you come up with the final program, they don't have to ask, “Why'd you do a U-shaped building?” They know already.

Frank Kelly: The typical reason that clients end up unhappy with buildings is not because you didn't do what they want, but, in fact, because they didn't ask you to do it in the first place. I jokingly refer to myself as the Grand Inquisitor; at times I really, really lean on clients to be sure of what they want.

We do mostly K–12 school work, and we can't get educators to talk to us about education. They say, “Well, my room's too small,” or, “The bathroom's too far down the hall.” And I keep saying, “How do you want to work with kids? Talk to me about how you want to teach.” And boy, you've got to reach clear down their throats and drag it out of them.

One of the worst things you can get is what's known as an “educational specification,” where some soul sat down and wrote a volume about every room in the entire building. From the janitor's closet to an auditorium, they'll write a specification and say how many square feet and what's on the floor and what's on the ceiling. I think they assume that the architect's going to take those and glue them all together and make a building out of them.

You need a format that's flexible enough to address programming issues before you start to talk about the spaces. A building is not just an assembly of boxes. It's a whole environment that does things that are all connected together, and that's the part to me that counts.

Ernst: I've got two projects right now, and I can think of about 40 hours Affinity would've saved me in the last two weeks, just to be able to communicate back and forth with the contractor and the client about what happened to spatial-program information along the trail.

Data Management

Jason St. Julian: Our project managers are really focused on data—pricing and square footages. Affinity is a huge tool for keeping track of that. When we draw in Archicad now, we draw walls, draw our spaces, input our area fills, and track square footages, and we have to also input the data into Excel. Affinity eliminates a lot of that manual labor.

Andy MacPhillimy: Our programming is a paper-intensive process, and we end up with these large books that sit on shelves after we've gotten into schematic design. The program gets lost as the project evolves. Going back to check is very difficult, particularly when you're looking at giant books that have page after page of requirements.

What we are seeing in the evolution of software is now a great ability to define a building very quickly from a program. A front-end plug-in that accumulates the detailed requirements and integrates with CAD software is definitely a brilliant move.

Budget Tracking

MacPhillimy: I can think of a performing arts project where the owners asked us to add some things, and we advised them that the numbers were being pushed, because it's not convenient to ask a contractor to price in the middle of an evolving design. But if we had an opportunity, through a tool like this, to see the evolution of numbers, the clients might have backed off earlier than they did in that process. I think real-time information-costing can be very beneficial in helping the architect manage the process.

I think this tool would help quickly translate program information into test fits, when you have a client who says, “We want to move, but we don't know whether we want to be in this building or that building.” We probably take a client to seven or eight buildings. And it's costly to them, but this might allow a much more efficient process.

Building Information Modeling

Kelly: I see a lot of possibilities here. You could take a room and assign outlets and light fixtures to keep track of costs. An owner could take that information to an accountant at the end of the project and say, “Here's my building broken down into a spreadsheet. I've got five outlets in this room; show me how I'm going to depreciate them.”

This whole thing could be a huge database that we all use, not only to manage the buildings but to gather information from previous designs. This is just one of the pieces of the puzzle that's going to allow us to become guardians of a building as it goes through time.

MacPhillimy: The beauty of computers is the digital information is there forever and useful to anybody that needs access to it—you can take this programming information and create a useful database as a foundation that can move through the design process, construction, and ultimately to the end user.

Ernst: The BIM concept for designers, architect, builders, developers, and end users is the future of the industry. Affinity is one of the more important links in the BIM concept design chain. Affinity's ability to stay in sync with our conceptual models all the way through to production, while allowing easy access to customizable printed data sheets, gives us a report card, if you will, on how well we have met the program design criteria. In a typical design process, much of this information can be lost, and valuable opportunities are missed. It is the ease of using the software, keeping it updated through design and production, and the ability to track both hard and soft program requirements, as well as the more ambiguous experiential ones, that impresses me most about the future of this software.